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Refraction LX, Penola Straight, Antarctica, 2009

A voice inside my head was grousing, “There’s nothing here. It’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. Someone else has done this before. You’ve done this before. You’re uncomfortable. You’ll have better luck next time.” I’d heard it all before. So I changed my inner dialog, “There’s something here; you just have to find it. You know how much you like the surprise when you do. You have a unique sensibility. You’ll bring something new to the situation. You can do it. It will be great. You’re enjoying this.” If I hadn’t shifted the tone of my self-talk I would have given up before I got started, instead I stuck with it, for hours, and succeeded, many times. Refraction LX was just one of that morning’s successes.

You’ve heard it all before too. “You’re just like … you always … you never … you’ll never … why try …” As Carla Gordon said, “If someone in your life talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have left them long ago.” We’re told that to improve and reach our full potential that we have to be our own worst critics. It’s true that there is a time and a place for this – but it’s limited. Don’t make it a full time occupation. If you do, you may never get where you need or want to go.

Professional athletes and performing artists have coaches and directors who not only train them but also encourage and inspire them as well. So do many CEOs and salesmen. So do many people from many walks of life at different times in their lives and stages in their careers. They may even engage different types of coaches at different times for different needs. When was the last time someone coached you? When was the last time you coached yourself?  Even if you’re lucky enough to find the right creative coach who can help guide you to perfect practice, they can’t do all the work for you; you have to do the work too; after all, in the end, they’re training you to do it yourself. You can’t afford to wait and find your perfect creative coach. Instead, become that person.

Energize yourself. Affirm your abilities. Take note of your previous accomplishments. Set tangible goals for the future. Chart your progress along the way. Provide yourself incentives. Reward yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments – both verbally and visually, privately and publicly. Be specific using precise language. Give yourself pep talks. Frequently use positive affirmations. Don’t think you can do it? Tell yourself you can. And then do it. Watch your self-talk – and change it for the better. It’s a mindset. If you want better results create a better mindset.

When you talk about yourself or your work, do you use positive or negative words? The words we use can be very revealing about our orientations, attitudes and beliefs. Many times, when we speak about ourselves, if we speak about ourselves, we downplay our abilities and accomplishments. It’s true that no one likes a raving egomaniac. But, there’s a real difference between arrogance and confidence. Confidence is attractive and inspiring; arrogance isn’t; neither is insecurity. Don’t let your insecurities get the best of you. Be careful not to talk yourself down, cut yourself off short, or fall completely silent. Instead, learn to speak simply and directly about yourself and your work and above all share your enthusiasm. Not feeling it? Act as if you do. With just a little practice you will begin to feel it. It’s true we should all beware of over confidence. And, critical feedback, the right kind and the right amount, is useful for improving performance too. Peak performance and growth take the right balance of positive and negative feedback. But ask yourself, “How balanced are you?” If you’re like most people, you’re not very balanced at all. Change this and you’ll tip the scales in your favor. This takes constant monitoring and recalibration but you’ll soon see substantial changes that make it not just worthwhile but invaluable.

How important is this? Consider how much money is spent every year on motivational resources like books, videos, lecture, workshops, and more. The figures are enormous. That’s how important it is to other people. Ask yourself, “What’s the price of not doing it?” That’s far greater. Don’t pay it. Just do it.


What is the state of your current self-talk?

How many ways can you improve your self-talk?

How many ways can you make your self-talk more energized?

How many ways can you make your self-talk more meaningful?

How many ways can you measure the results of improved self-talk?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

Enchambered, 1996, Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

The symmetry is marvelous, but it would be even better if it was rotated a few degrees. The color is rich, but it could be a little more saturated – not too saturated. The shadows are a touch too dark; they need more detail. The space in the center is too empty. What should go in it? A stone? It blocks the entrance. A bone? It brings unwanted associations of death. A tooth? Don’t give Freud the pleasure. How about something non-material like light? That’s it. But a little irregular. Now the environment needs to reflect the new light source. How light should the surrounding walls become? A little lighter, no that’s too light. And lighten only the central arch so that the source of light appears to be in not in front of the canyon walls. That’s it. Are you sure? I’m sure. Are you really sure? That’s enough. So it went, my dialog with my inner critic as I made this image – Enchambered. My inner critic would have been either maddening or demoralizing if I hadn’t come to trust it so much over the years.

Your inner critic can be a terrible adversary or a powerful ally. Which one it becomes depends on how you relate to and use it. Like any animal, proper care and feeding can work wonders while neglect and abuse can produce monstrous results.

The inner critic’s powers of analysis and forethought are truly exceptional. It’s a protective mechanism. Its job is to help you avoid potential dangers. It’s excellent at identifying weaknesses or shortcomings that if left uncorrected and allowed to continue unchecked may have adverse affects. It can quickly identify potential areas for improvement. It can provide all sorts of extremely valuable feedback.

But, the inner critic has its limitations. The inner critic speaks from a point of fear. It motivates with fear too. It’s a pessimist. It’s often accurate, but never infallible. Because of this, it isn’t good at being supportive, but instead may create doubt and insecurity. Its criticism may not be constructive, if its feedback isn’t placed in a useful context. If it goes too far astray, its affects can produce negative results and even lead to paralysis.

So how can you turn this powerful voice from enemy into ally? It’s all in your attitude. First consider the inner critic a trusted ally – one with limitations. Call on it whenever you need a good dose of tough love. Give it free reign to speak candidly and fully, for a limited time only. Weigh everything it offers appropriately; remember it’s wearing the opposite of rose colored glasses. Whenever you hear the voice of the inner critic unbeckoned, ask if what it has to offer is helpful. If it is, use its feedback to improve your results. If it’s not, calmly acknowledge it. Tell it you value it as an ally both in the past and in the future, and clearly state the reason(s) you’ve decided to make the choice you’re making. Tell it you will continue to consult with it in the future. You might even give it an alternate project to work on. Stay calm; it can feed on negative emotions. Once you’ve made your decision, be firm. Remember, like a child having a tantrum, there may be times it needs to be silenced; give it a time out. It can take a lot of energy to manage your inner critic well, so afterwards (There must be an afterwards; giving the inner critic free reign 24/7 is a recipe for depression.) you may need to take a break or even engage your inner coach to reenergize yourself and return empowered with new perspectives.

The inner critic is most valuable at certain stages in a creative process. The inner critic has little to offer early in the creative process; it’s the kiss of death during brainstorming sessions but it’s very useful afterwards when sifting through the wealth of material that’s produced in them. It becomes increasingly valuable further on in a creative process, particularly at key turning points when evaluating results – identifying and rating strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and performing cost benefit analyses. Often, towards the end of a creative process, it will provide just the thing you need to pull it all together or help you take it up to the next level.


When are evaluative questions and statements most useful?

When are evaluative questions and statements not useful?

What is the most beneficial attitude to approach them with?

What’s the most productive way to ask and state them?

When are they energizing?

When are they enervating?

How do you reconcile conflicting results that are sometimes generated?

How long should you stay in this mode?

When should you stop?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes on abstraction.

“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.” – Stephen Sondheim

“All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.” – Albert Einstein

“Art is the beautiful way of doing things. Science is the effective way of doing things. Business is the economic way of doing things.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Art disturbs, science reassures.” – Georges Braque, Le Jour et la nuit

“A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind.” – Eugene Ionesco

“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.” – Paul Cezanne

“Art is literacy of the heart” – Elliot Eisner

“All art is but imitation of nature.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“Great art picks up where nature ends.” – Marc Chagall

“Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” – Andre Gide

“The perfection of art is to conceal art.” – Quintilian

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” – Aristotle

“While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality… true art lies in a reality that is felt.” – Odilon Redon

The principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.” – Jerzy Kosinski

“That art is best which suggests most.” – Austin O’Malley

“What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things… it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.” – Constantin Brancusi

“Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.” – Khalil Gibran

“The mediator of the inexpressible is the work of art.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” – Jonathan Swift

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

“Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” – Paul Klee

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” ― Pablo Picasso

Find more Creativity Quotes here.

Discover more quotes daily in my Twitter and Facebook streams.

Making prints does many things for you. To make a print you have to answer many questions. You learn a lot when you make a print. Realizing your vision in print means more than just making it real, it also means you’ll make many realizations about your vision along the way.

The new opportunities making prints presents challenge you to clarify and declare your intentions. What do you want to accomplish with your images? If your goal is to make an historic record you may be content with making a few, perhaps only one, possibly quite small, highly durable print that is stored and preserved very carefully for the future appreciation of only a few. On the other hand, if your goal is to expose the largest number of people possible to your imagery, you may want to consider creating an international billboard campaign now. How do you want people to interact with your images? Do you want to present your images as casual, everyday, highly accessible, utilitarian artifacts or scarce, highly refined, collectibles? The way you choose to print (or not to print) your images will get people to look at, interact with, share, and value them in entirely different ways. When you choose one thing you often have to let another go. If you choose many things simultaneously take steps to make the comparisons meaningful or you run the risk of creating confusing mixed messages. The things you make your images into will guide the viewer on a reenactment of your journey of discovery – and part of that journey of discovery lies in making and appreciating prints.

Printing your images also challenges you to clarify and declare your sensibilities. How do you prefer your images to look? What is the appropriate scale for an image – miniature, life-sized, or larger-than-life? Scale changes the physical and psychological reactions people have to images. They draw close to small prints and sometimes hold them or even carry them with them wherever they go; large prints immerse people in images that may fill their entire visual field until they pull back to view them from a distance. You can change a space or even create new space with prints. How will materials enhance your visual statements? Synthetic or organic? Smooth or textured? Uniform or irregular? Sharp or soft? Reflective or non-reflective? White, cream, or another colored base? All of these factors will have not just a technical impact on detail and color in your image but also on the psychological reactions their associations produce within the viewer. Inevitably, when making a print some things are gained and others are sacrificed. The sacrifices you are willing to make offer an opportunity to clarify your priorities. What do you want people to appreciate most about your images? Let this question be your guide as you first explore possibilities and later make decisions about how to present your images.

To answer the many questions making prints raises you have to pay attention to many details. When you make prints you are called to carefully consider your images and what you want to say and do with them. Prints also offer invitations for others to carefully consider not only your images but also your vision. Once you’ve made prints, you’ll not only understand your vision better, by extension you’ll understand other people’s vision better too.

Sure you can let others make prints for you. But you’ll be missing out on the opportunities they present to further clarify and resolve your vision. Even if you do it, really do it, just once, you’ll learn a lot.

Find out about my prints here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Making prints does many things for your images.

Prints make your images tangible. They can be displayed and stored. Prints take up physical space and why would you let something do that if it wasn’t important? Because they occupy space, prints are rarer as well as less accessible. Of all the images you look at in a day, how many of them are prints? No one makes millions of prints. No one carries thousands of prints in their pockets or cell phones. Because they’re physical, prints can be bought and sold. It’s harder to command a higher price for intangible things and harder still for them to hold their value.

Prints enhance your images with material qualities and associations. Synthetic or organic? Smooth or textured? Uniform or irregular? Reflective or non-reflective? White, cream, or another colored base? Your choices have an impact on the technical quality in your images (detail, gradation, color) and on the associative reactions they produce within the viewer (it feels like or reminds me of …).

Prints define the scale of your images. What is the appropriate scale for an image – miniature, life-sized, or larger-than-life? Scale changes the physical and psychological reactions people have to images. They draw close to small prints and sometimes hold them or even carry them with them wherever they go; large prints immerse people in images that may fill their entire visual field until they pull back to view them from a distance. You can change a space or even create new space with prints.

Printing your images may make them durable. Historically, it’s the images that were printed that survived. New technology disaster stories aside, there’s never been a precedent to help us determine how long digital files will last if properly cared for. In theory, they should never degrade and can be copied indefinitely without reducing their quality. Whether people will perform the required maintenance to ensure this is the real question. One day in the future, media and format migration may become automated, but it’s not now. Though they can deteriorate on their own, if properly produced and stored, prints need little or no additional care and no know how to retrieve and use them.

Prints enable images to be viewed in different ways. Traditionally, photographs needed to be printed to be viewed. (Slides were a brief but possible exception. Or were they really tiny prints?) Today, that’s no longer true. But we do look at things that are printed differently than images that are not.

Do you look more frequently at images that have been printed or images that haven’t? Prints persist. They remain in our environment consistently and require little or no conscious effort for us to consider and reconsider them.  If you’re like most people, only the most important images to you have been printed and only a few of those are displayed at one time or for long periods of time. Making and using prints can become a part of the decision making process to focus more attention on a select few images. When images are printed they are no longer lost amid too many other less important images. When printed your images become more significant.

In short, printing your images can work wonders for them.

Find out about my prints here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

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